When Dan Greteman, SVP and CIO of Nationwide's Allied, Commercial and Specialty businesses, first arrived at the Columbus, Ohio-based insurer in 2004, he brought with him a hard-charging approach to getting things done. The former management consultant acknowledges that, initially, he was guilty of at least a slight tendency to talk before listening. Fortunately, he also had cultivated the discipline to react appropriately to the exigencies of a given situation.
"In this organization, like many, relationships matter, and I quickly realized that I was not going to be successful by myself," Greteman recalls. "I made a pretty significant shift to recognize the importance of relationships and team engagement."
The success of that shift may be gauged by Greteman's central role as IT leader of Nationwide's Catalyst program, a large-scale initiative to consolidate the carrier's Allied, Nationwide Insurance and a portion of the Nationwide Agribusiness companies onto a single business model, product portfolio and policy administration platform. According to Greteman, the five-year transformation effort -- during which he served as VP, Independent Agency, Commercial and Agribusiness (ICA) -- required not only the planning and execution of many large technology projects, but also close engagement with the business transformation team and a massive change management and communications effort, both internally and with agents.
Greteman oversaw the development of a scalable delivery model that enabled 10 major builds between 2005 and 2010, as well as 17 to 22 additional smaller projects annually. Despite touching more than 120 systems, he reports, Catalyst concluded in November 2010 without missing a single delivery deadline. The realization of the new single business model, portfolio and processing platform, he says, has resulted in immediate efficiencies across systems, product pricing and service, in addition to Catalyst's long-term strategic implications.
Greteman adds that the initiative cut IT costs significantly within ICA. It also took the business from a "hard-coded" core processing system to a table-driven system that enables the business to make modifications without IT intervention.
Accelerating the Flywheel
Greteman likens the simplification gained through Catalyst to a flywheel reduced to a smaller radius: By simplifying processes, one tightens the flywheel down and it spins faster, he explains. "Things like rate revisions can happen much more quickly on a single platform, so speed to market is enabled and the business is liberated to sell more," Greteman relates. "You basically take effort wasted on duplicative work and turn it into production."
Both the scale and the nature of the initiative, however, required major communications and change-management planning. Nationwide (more than $20 billion in 2010 gross revenue) chose as its goal-state policy administration platform an in-house built system from the Allied independent agent channel side of the business, so the other parts of ICA needed to convert to the goal-state business process, Greteman explains. To enable a smooth transition, he says, he moderated the speed of the technology work to the business's ability to adapt, and established communications tailored to key business stakeholders according to eight different personality styles. "We were able to rapidly adapt messages to match the style of a given stakeholder," Greteman notes.
Greteman also united with the business in a precisely orchestrated communications and training initiative to drive adoption of new front-end capabilities by more than 5,000 agents. No effort to overcome agent resistance to change was spared, he notes, including bringing in staff to assist agents in training sessions the moment agents encountered any difficulty with the new interface.
From Maintenance Shop to Delivery Organization
Long before these major changes could be implemented for the business and distribution, Greteman recalls, he first had to embark on a transformation of his IT organization. "When I joined the organization, we were in maintenance mode, focusing on smaller projects," he says. "We hadn't done a great deal of hiring, so we had more of a tenured workforce, which tends to have a heavier cost burden."
Greteman implemented what he calls a factory domain structure to support a scalable delivery model. Within this structure, he says, his organization was able to manage between 10 and 15 distinct streams of work at any given time during the program's five-year duration. The organization also beefed up its project management skills and qualifications, implemented an integrated tool set and adopted new processes for delivery management. Nationwide's commercial IT organization also established a 70-person offshore development team and built advanced testing capabilities, including requirements traceability, test automation and common configuration.
Greteman characterizes the IT organization's evolution as a metamorphosis from a maintenance organization to a large delivery shop. "We introduced 20 parallel streams of larger, million-dollar-or-more initiatives to enable new technologies and effect the transformation," he relates.
But there are few things more important in leadership than getting a good team in place, Greteman adds, singling out his direct report team. "They all made invaluable contributions, including getting tools in place, setting clear expectations and aligning the organization in a structure that would allow business enablement across the work streams," he says.
One of the most important factors in the reconfiguration of the IT organization was the introduction of a matrix that created "healthy conflict" between project domain leads and resource suppliers, with responsible individuals at intersection points, Greteman continues. "The resource managers would look vertically across all the streams of work and balance the entire pool of resources across those streams," he says. "At the same time, the delivery people would look across those streams to make sure there were no silos in the software development lifecycle phases, that communication was going on and delivery was going forward. That structure of clear accountability -- with a healthy conflict model -- helped produce positive outcomes for our business partners."
Also critical to the success of large delivery initiatives is the morale that comes from the engagement of individuals across the organization, according to Greteman. "You only ever get things done by people, and if you can create an environment where people are engaged, you generate a productivity uplift and cast a positive shadow over the organization," he says. "If people are going to bed Sunday night excited about Monday morning, that's huge."
And the way to keep business colleagues motivated is simply to deliver, Greteman advises. "If you're there to enable the business and help it differentiate itself and grow, then the business will invest in you," he says.
Scalability is integral to Greteman's IT philosophy. "There is what you could call an appropriate investment level," he explains. "When the business is growing, you should be investing in more enablement; but if the business is contracting, you should be prepared to get smaller."
Catalyst helped to streamline the capabilities supporting Nationwide's commercial business, but it also served as a catalyst for Greteman to take on larger responsibilities. From responsibility over one solution area comprising Independent Agency, Commercial and Agribusiness, Greteman has been given responsibility over five solution areas, encompassing ICA; Scottsdale Insurance Co.; Titan, Nationwide's specialty company; and Nationwide Bank. He also is responsible for customer service and billing across Nationwide's entire P&C organization.
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio